George Richards.

The divine origin of prophecy illustrated and defended : in a course of sermons preached before the University of Oxford in the year MDCCC .. online

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S E R M O N V. 197

like Micaiah, alone to predial misfoitune
and defeat, at the hazard of imprifonment,
and even of death,

A deceiver would not, like Elijah, have
foretold the approaching death of an im-
pious king ; nor, like Jeremiah, have pre-
dided the captivity and afflidions of his
fovereign ; efpecially at a moment when
he had incurred the perilous fufpicion of
favouring the caufe of the enemy.

A deceiver would not, like Nathan,
have denounced a heavy judgment for a
fingle crime, though even of the deepefl
die, againfl: one of the moft moral and
pious, as well as the moft profperous and
highly favoured of all the kings of Judah.

A deceiver would not, like Ifaiah, have
forefhewn to the good and pious Hezekiah
the approaching ruin of his kingdom, on
account of the apparently trifling offence,
of oftentatioufly expofing his treafures to
the view of the Babylonian meffengers.

What but the over-ruling Ipirit of God

could have guided the Prophet of Moab,

o 3 when,

198 S E R M O N V.

■when, difregarding the moft fplendld al-
lurements, in oppofition to the interefts of
his nation, to his own ardent wifhes, and
to the repeated and peremptory commands
of his fovereign, he foretold in the cleareft,
fulleft, and mofl: eloquent terms, the pro-
fperity and fame of the unknown and
hoftile armies of Ifrael ?

What but the agency of a fuperior
Power could have induced the Prophets to
urge the inefiicacy of ceremonial rites, and
even to fix the period of their final abolition,
though at the fame time they ftrenuoufly
exerted their divine authority, to retain
their countrymen in a faithful obfervance
of the Mofaic lav/, and perpetually repre-
fented it both as the gift and command of
their God ?

Ifaiah predided the refloration of ge-
nuine piety in Egypt, and the eflablilh-
ment of an irj.timate religious conne<51:ion
between that country and Judea. Now,
whether we confider the Prophecy as de-
fcribing the temporary prevalence ot Ju-
daifm under the favour of one of the later
Ptolemies, or the converfion of the Egyptian


S E R M O N V. 199

people to Chriftianity in a fujbfequent age,
it cannot be fatisfad:only accounted for
upon any of the ordinary motives which
influence mankind. All the Prophets anxi-
oully laboured to effed: a continuance of
the entire feparation, which fubfiiled be-
tween the two countries ; while Ifaiah in
particular exerted the utmoll force of his
divine eloquence in diiTuading his country-
men from repofing confidence in the Egyp-
tians ; and, in profecution of this defign,
they repeatedly delineated, in the moft
ftriking colours, the heavy calamities, to
which that devoted nation was doomed.

When Cyrus entered Babylon, the Jew*
ilh Prophecies were fubmitted to his in-
fpeftion. In them, the Lord, the God of
Ifrael, is reprefented as forming the light,
and creating darknefs. Now Light and
Darknefs were the two prefiding deities in
the magi an fuperflition, in which Cyrus
had been educated. If, therefore, the Pro-
phecies of Ifaiah were not really the Re-
velations of Heaven delivered in a preced-
ing age, but forgeries executed at the mo-
ment for purpofes of deception, is it in the
Hightell degree probable, that fuch a de-
o 4 fcription

200 S E R M O N V.

fcription of the Almighty would have been
invented for the fake of conciliating the
favour of the conqueror, as was in the
Jiigheft degree likely to produce an oppo-
fite efFed:, to provoke his indignation, and
to render him, even upon religious princi-
ples, hoflile to the caufe of the Jews ?

When the time of the crucifixion ap- .
proached, and the difciples of our Sa-
viour were about to be diflieartened and
perplexed by the apparent ruin of their
caufe, in the ftrongeft and moft impref-
five manner he prophetically delineated
their approaching perfecutions. He repre-
fented to them, that they were deftined to
the moft heavy calamities, which human
nature can endure ; not only to prifons, to
ftripes, and to death, but to the general
hatred of mankind, to the apoftafy and
treachery of their friends, and, what is
perhaps the greateft of all human trials,
even to a general fpirit of indifference,
among their brethren, refpediing their com-
mon caufe. Surely the fpirit of truth, and
a certain prefcience of the efficacy of the
divine affiftance, with which he intended
to fupport them, could alone have prompted


S E R M O N V. 201

him to make fuch an unwelcome repre-
fentation, at a moment, when every en-
couragement was required. An impoftor,
in commending a pretended revelation to
the zeal of his deluded followers, would
have endeavoured to fire their imaginations
by expatiating upon its final triumph, and
delineating in the brightefl colours fcenes
of permanent profperity and fplendour :
while the intermediate difficulties, to which
its propagation might appear to be fubje6l,
would have been either entirely omitted, or
reprefented in the weakefl and mofi: general
terms, as unworthy of the ferious confi-
deration of fmcere and able fupporters.

Though w^e are unable, in thefe numer-
ous inflances, to reconcile the fubjeds of
the predictions with any motives of human
artifice ; yet, if we admit the Prophets to
have been commiffioned by the Lord, the
God of Heaven, their communications will
appear perfedlly confonant with that high
and holy charaAer. They conflantly de-
clared themfelves to be the mefTengers of
the Moft High ; and it is abfolutely in-
credible, that they w^ould have uttered
fuch extraordinary Prophecies, as thofe,
^ which

203 S E R M O N V.

which they frequently deHvered, if his di-
vine Spirit had not really ovv-^r- ruled and
guided their wills. When our Saviour
condefcended to anfwer the accufation of
the Pharifees, who afcribed his miracles to
a demoniacal agency, he overthrew the
blafphemous objection, by lliewing the ut-
ter inconfiftency of the pure and holy doc-
trine, for the eftablifliment of which his
fupernatural works were wrought, with
the pernicious principles, which a Demon
muft neceflarily labour to inculcate. In
like manner, we may reply with boldnefs
to the modern Infidel, who arrogantly pro-
nounces all Prophecy to be the offspring of
deception, that the fubje61s of many of
the facred Oracles were totally irreconcile-
able with the purpofe of a deceiver. If
the fuppofition of their impoflure be ad-
mitted, they inevitably tended to alienate
the affections of the hearers, and to injure
the caufe, which they were intended to
fupport. " My thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my w^ays,"
faid the Lord of hofls to his chofen peo-
ple of old. Mofl flrikingly is this fublime
fentiment illuflrated in the peculiar nature
of many of the fubjects feleded by the an-

S E R M O N V. 203

cient Prophets. Far removed from the
ways and thoughts of man, from the con-
tracted views of human policy, and from
the petty artifices of impoilure, they ex-
hibit this clear and forcible evidence, that
they originated in the counfels of the Al-
mighty, and were delivered in obedience
to his revealed will.


ACTS XV. i8.

Rnown unto god are all his works
from the beginning op the world.

X O judge of the truth of Revelation by
the dogmas, which the pride of human
reafon invents -, to aflume arbitrary princi-
ples, and to rejedl or admit the narrations,
the do6lrines, and the evidences contained
in the facred Writings, as they are found
to be more or lefs confiftent with thofe
principles, is a practice at once arrogant
and dangeroils in the extreme. We thereby
endeavour to fet bounds to the adls of
the Almighty, to reduce the high powers
of Divine wifdom to a level with the con-
trailed intellecfl of man, to controul and


Q.o6 S E R M O N VI.

give laws to Omnipotence. It is not fur-
prifing, that a pradice fo contrary to the
natural dilates of reaibn fliould be the pa-
rent of Scepticifm and Infidelity. The phi-
lofopher prefumptuoully determines, what
the conduct and the do(5lrines of his Maker
ought to be ; and if the condud: and the
doctrines, recorded in the volume of Reve-
lation, do not coincide with his precon-
ceived opinion, even though they be fanc-
tioned by preternatural teftimonies, which
he cannot fairly difprove, he rejedls them
as unreafonable and unworthy of belief.
This pernicious error will be found, upon
examination, to be one chief caufe of the
increafed prevalence of Deifm. It is the
ftone, on which the pretended philofo-
phers of the prefent age have fatally ftum-

Though there are firft principles, from
which we may venture, without prefump-
tion, to believe that the Almighty will not
deviate ; yet they are few and fimple : and
whenever he appears to depart from any
one of them, it becomes us not, on that
account, arrogantly to rejed his revela-
tion : we ought rather, with earneftnefs


S E R M O N VL 207

and humility, to feek the caufe of the de-
viation in the exercife of fome other of
his divine attributes, in conformity with
which, in the inftance under confideration^
from the pecuHar circumftances of the
cafe, he in his wifdom may have aded.

Let it not be fuppofed, that I wifh to
exclude the exercife of reafon on the fub-
jeSi of revelation. Far otherwife. It is
the principal charaderiftic of Chrlftlanity,
the mark by w4iich it is peculiarly diftin-
guifhed from all other religions, that it
fubmits its precepts and evidences to the
cool and impartial judgment of mankind.
Some of its doftrines are above, but none
are contrary to reafon. It is the abufe and
not the ufe of this faculty, which is con-
demned. The Chriftian teacher folicits his
hearers to decide in favour of the Gofpel,
by the didates of their fober judgment.
The more accurately the feveral parts of
our Religion fliall be examined, with a fin-
cere defire of acquiring a knowledge of the
truth, the more clearly will the admirable
propriety and excellence of the whole be



In any great work, the fitnefs of a va-
riety of important parts is an indubitable
evidence of defign. The juftnefs and mu-
tual connection of the feveral membefS of
the univerfe are vifible teftimonies of an
all-wife and omnipotent Creator. When
Galen had examined with accuracy the
formation of the human frame, ftruck with
the admirable propriety and mutual agree-
ment of all its members, he acknowledged
it to be at once the work and the proof of
a God. In the liime manner, from the fuit-
ablenefs of the different parts of the great
fcheme of Prophecy, wq may reafonably
infer the neceflity of an infpiring and over-
ruling Mind.

By cafting our eye over the facred pages,
and bringing within our view the moil
Ilriking circumflances, illuftrative of this
obfervation, we fliall be fupplied with a
forcible argument in flipport of the infpi-
ration of the Prophets.

In profecuting' this enquiry, we muft
not allow ourfelves prefumptuoufly to af-
fume arbitrary principles. We mufl bear
continually in our recoUedlion what was




the real intention of Prophecy, as that in-
tention has been graciouflj communicated
to us in the facred Writings. We ought
then to examine whether a consistea^cy
can be difcovered in the feveral parts. And
finally, with diligence and impartiality,
we fhould endeavour to determine, whe-
ther fuch a confifliency is not a vifible proof
of DESIGN ; and whether it is either rea-
fonable, or even poffible, to fuppofe, that
it could really have been attained, unlefs
the extraordinary perfons, by whom the
fcheme was gradually unfolded, had bsen
affifted by a divine Infpirer.

In my former Difcourfes I have been
chiefly employed in examining the moft
ftriking charafteriftics of feveral particular
predidions : let us now direct our enquiries
by more comprehenfive principles, and con-
fider the general fyftem of Prophec}' at

In approaching to this difcuffion, we
muft call to our remembrance the defisin
of the Almighty, in raifmg up his holy
Prophets. In the early ages of the world,
he eftabliflied a double covenant with his
p chofen


chofen people; the one temporal, and con-
fined to themfelves; the other fpiritual, and
extended to all mankind. By the firft he
promifed a particular interference, during a
confiderable period of time, in the affairs
of the Ifraelites : by the fecond, a general
redemption of the whole human race. In
conformity with thefe promifes, the Pro-
phets were commiffioned to preferve among
the Jews a full convidtion of the more im-
mediate interpofition of God in their pre-
fent government ; and alfo to excite in
their minds an earneft expectation of the
future Deliverer, and prepare the way for
his coming, Thefe were the general du-
ties of their miniflry, the great outlines of
their high commiffion.

In the propofed examination of the con-
fiftency, which diflinguilhes the writings
of the Prophets, it is my intention to con-
■fider, firft, the circumftances connected
with the complex nature of the prophetic
office, and afterwards thofe, which referred
folely to the benevolent redemption, which
was ultimately intended.

When we refled; upon the twofold na-


ture of the prophetic office, we may rea-
fbnably imagine, that the fpiirit of Pro-
phecy would be difplayed with imcommon
luftre in thofe periods of the Jewifh hif-
tory, in which the people were more
ftrongly tempted to forego the expectation
of the future Deliverer, and, renouncing
the worfhip of Jehovah, to bow before the
altars of the Heathen gods.

The perufal of the facred Writings will
confirm this reafonable prefumption.

Even in the ages, which preceded the
cftablifhment of the Mofaic law, the be-
nevolent Creator appears to have provided
for his creatures, by thefe exprefs means,
the aid more immediately required by
the preflure of circumftances at particular

When man had incurred by fin the for-
feiture of his blifsful condition, and was
doomed to forrows and to death, the pro-
mife of future refiioration was peculiarly re-
quired, to alleviate the feverity of the fen-
tence, to banifh the fatal effeds of defpair,
and to maintain religion in the world. la
p % that

sr2 S E R M O N VI.

that melancholy hour it was gracioufly im-

At the time of the deluge, and through
the firft of the fiicceeding ages, no fpiritual
promife was renewed ; the vifible interpo-
fition of God in that awful miracle hav-
ing neceflarily made a deep impreffion
upon the minds of the few furvivors, and
of their immediate defcendants.

When mankind again multiplied, and
the holy Patriarchs were furrounded by a
corrupt and idolatrous world, they were fe-
cured from the contagion by the aimrances
of Prophecy, and the prom.ife of an univerfal
blefiing to mankind through their feed.

Wiien their defcendants were about to
be oppreffed in a ftrange land, and to be
allured by univerfal example to the wor-
fliip of the Egyptiaa idols, not only the
precife period of their fufferings w^as pre-
dicted, and the future glories of their tribes
forefliewn, but, though in obfcure terms,
the coming of Shiloh was gracioufly pro-
mifedj and the bleffing was afTured to Ju-
dah. On the other hand, during the theo-




cracy, between the times of Mofes and of
the eftabUfhment of the royal authority,
when the power of Omnipotence was fuf-
ficiently manifefted by figns and mighty
wonders, and by a frequent difplay of Pro-
phecy upon temporal fubjec5ts as an inftru-
ment of divine government ; during that
tvonderfui period hardly any intimation
was given of the exalted Perfonage, in
whom all the nations of the earth were
ultimately to be blefled.

The fidelity of David was rewarded by
a plainer and fuller communication of the
Divine purpofe refpe6ling the future Re-
deemer. Soon after his times, when the
days of vengeance were at hand, when the
arm of the Almighty was terribly ftretched
forth, and the people, expofed to his dread-
ful refentment, were trembling before an
irrefiftible enemy, or languifliing in diflant
captivity ; and when, overpowered by fuch
tremendous calamities, they were in danger
of being tempted to renounce the God, by
whom they were apparently forfaken, and
to fly for fuccour to the idols, by whom they
feemed to be fubducd ; then the prophetic
power was more particularly exerted to re-
p 3 animate


animate their confidence and reftore theli*
hope, to convince them that the Almighty
was flill their protestor, and that they were
fulFering not from the prevaihng afcendancy
of any other God, but under the juft indig-
nation of their own. The ages of adver-
fity were more particularly the ages of Pro-
phecy. In fuch feafons, not only the tem-
poral fufFerings of the Ifraelites were accu-
rately and fully foretold, but the pidure of
the Meffiah and of his kingdom was drawn
with an aftonifliing degree of minutenefs,
fpirit, and fplendour. Thus the predic-
tions of Ifaiah, of Jeremiah, of Ezekiel^
and of Daniel, were delivered in feafons
of apprehenfion, difmay, and defolation,
amidft the impotence of defeat, and the
anguifli and deipondence of lengthened

This iubordinate defign of the holy Spi-
rit, fo n^anifeft through the long courfe of
Divine infpiration, difplayed itfelf in a mofh
firiking manner, in one fignal inftance, at
the clofe of Jewifli Prophecy. The inha-
bitants of Judah had returned from cap-
tivity in poverty and weaknefs : reftoring
their ruined temple, they were difpirited


SERMON Vr. 225

and difcouraged by the manifeft inferiority
of the new building to the former pile, the
magnificent work of Solomon. At this
feafon of defpondence, the promife of the
Meffiah was gracioufly renewed ; and a
mighty addition of dignity was afforded
to the rifnig temple, by an anticipation of
the fplendour and folemnity, which it
fhould derive, in a future age, from the
prefence of the bleffed Son of God.

Even the fufpenfion of Prophecy during
the long period, which intervened between
Malachi and the Baptift, affords a ftrong
confirmation of the principle, which has
been advanced. The Jewifh character, in
one moil important point, had undergone,
during the captivity in Babylon, a total
alteration. The ardour for Idolatry and
for the forbidden rites of Polytheifm, which
had been the caufe, through many preced-
ing generations, of fo much guilt and woe,
was entirely extinguiflied. From that fig-
nal 2era the Jews perfevered in a firm,
though fometimes miftaken, attachment to
the precepts and ritual of the law- As
they were, therefore, no longer in danger
of apoflafy, there was no farther necefTity
p 4 of

ai6 S E R M O N VL

of invigorating their confidence and re-
animating their piety, by occafional re-
newals of the divine promife. In con-
formity with this unprecedented fituation
of the Jews, we find, that the fpirit of
Prophecy ceafed, and w^as never after exer-
cifed in aid of the Mofaic pohty.

From this fhort review of the prophetic
hiftory, it is evident, that thefe gracious com-
munications were more efpecially imparted
at particular feafons, according to a fixed
principle for the attainment of a particular
end. To the unprejudiced enquirer it muft
appear morally impoffible, that, in a variety
of predl6lions, delivered through a long
period of time, fuch an intention could be
made fo clearly and ftrongly to appear, if
the predictions had been enthufiaftically
and incohere];itly uttered, and no defign
whatever had been intended. Chance could
not have produced fo certain an indication
of fjftem.

But though the expedation of a Mef-
fiah, the conftant theme of the divine pre-
diclions, mjuil, when fully excited, have
been pecuharly calculated to preferve a


S E R M O N VI. fli7

people, even under the mofl calamitous
diflreilesy in a faithful adherence to the fu-
preme Being, from whom the promifed
bleffings.were to flow; yet the fimple aflur-
ance of thefe bleffings, when unattended
with any vifible proof of a divine interpo-
fition, would not have been capable of
completely producing the defired effed:.
Promifes of fo extraordinary a kind ought
to be accompanied by circumftances, which
may imprefs the mind with aftonifliment,
and produce a rational convidion of the
certainty of their accomplifhment. Now
the miraculous powers, which were pre-
fented to the view of the Ifraelites, were
adapted, beyond any other means which
the human imagination can devife, to fanc-
tion the predidions of the Prophets, and
to keep alive among the people a firm
expectation of the promifed bleffing. In
the later period of the Jewifh hiftory, the
repeated accomplifliments of former pre-
dictions, in all the mofl important and
many of the moft minute events, which
occurred in their refpeclive ages, became
an additional and no lefs decifive tefti-
mony to the truth of divine inspiration.
The Prophecy fulfilled, as well as the Mi-

2i8 S E K M O N VI.

racle performed, was a pledge and earnefl:
of the futiu - completion of the mighty
promife, which was the ultimate end and
defign of all Revelation.

In perufmg the facred Volume, w^e not
only behold the authority of Prophecy fup-
ported by the peculiar nature of the dif-
ferent means adopted by the Prophets, but
•we behold thefe^ means each more particu-
larly employed in that period of the hiftory,
in which it was fnigularly beneficial and

In the infani: flate of the world, in which
Prophecy could not yet have acquired that
high degree of authority which is obtained
by the frequent accompliiliment of former
predictions, miracles were mofi: frequently
employed. When the Children of Ifrael,
departing from Egypt, were encouraged,
in their revolt againft a foreign tyrant, and
during their painful and dangerous progrefs
through the wildernefs, by the fplendid and
repeated promifes of divine Revelation,
then, the neceffity of their implicit reliance
upon thefe promifes being more immedi-
ately urgent, a long feries of miracles wa-s


S E R M O N VI. 219

exhibited, the moft ftupendous, which the
human imagination can conceive.

When, in a later age, the calamities of
the Ifraelites were multiplied, and even
their utter extindion fomctimes appeared
to be approaching, extraordinary Prophets
■were more frequently raifed up ; who, for
the purpofe of upholding the faith of the
people, were commlffioned to defcribe in
fuller, more diftind;, and more glowing
terms, the character of the Meffiah, and
the future glories of his kingdom. But,
as the divine government had been carried
on, through a long fuccefiion of years,
chiefly by the agency of Prophets ; and
as almoft every event which took place
was the accompliihment of a former pre-
diction, miracles were no longer neceflary
for the purpofe of confirming the promifes
of the Prophets, and eftablifliing the faith
of the hearers. Accordingly few miracles
appear to have been performed. Though
•events the moft momentous occurred ;
though the city and temple of Jerufalem
were deftroyed, and the Jews were carried
into diftant captivity, and after long exile
l-pturnejd to their ancient Ijind ; yet no won-

220 S E R M O N VI,

derful a6ls of Omnipotence were exerted
in their behalf; neither was the ftream
commanded to flow from the dry and
barren rock, nor wxre the waters of the
Euphrates divided.

But though fuch frequent advantages
were derived from the communications
of the Prophets to the generations, to which
they wcYQ refpeftively addrelTed ; yet to
deliver thofe communications in diftin^
and completely intelligible terms, was nei-
ther neceflary for the important purpofe of
which I have been fpeaking, nor confiftent
with the peculiar nature of the iyftem,
under which the Prophets and their hearers
lived. Some of the mofi: ftubborn diffi-
culties, which appear to perplex the argu-
ment from Prophecy, and which the In-
fidel exaggerates with pride and exultation,
are not only capable of a fatisfadory fo-
lution, but may even reafonably be expeded
from this twofold nature of the Prophetic
oeconomy. Of this kind is the obfcurity,
in which the predictions are frequently in-
volved. In affigning the caufe of this ob-
fcurity, it is not fufRcient that we fliould
expatiate upon the freedom of human



agency, by which alone many of the pre-
dictions were to receive their accomplifli-

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